In an earlier essay I described what I believe are the three arcs to every story: the physical arc, the emotional arc, and the intentional arc. The most important of these three arcs is the intentional arc. It is what your story is about—not what happens, but the emotional truth with which you leave your reader. Another way to understand the intentional arc is with this question: Why are you telling this story? What brings you to the desk every day? Is it to scare the pants off your readers? Is it to jerk their tears? Is it to show the challenges of dating after divorce? There are as many reasons as there are writers, but it is important that you know what yours is. You don’t have to be able spell it out, you don’t need a mission statement for every story, but you must be able to feel it, whatever it is.
Here’s what your reason can’t be, however: to get published. That is not a story. Nor is to be rich, nor is to be famous. Those are possible results, but not stories. You would not walk up to a stranger at a party and say, “I’m going to tell you a story because I like when people listen to me.” They would turn and walk away. But if you have a story that you believe will make them laugh, or touch them, or inform them, and you tell the story for that reason and that reason only, you may find yourself with a willing audience.
I do not believe you would be writing unless you had something to share. No matter how many books you have or haven’t sold, it is easy to become consumed with all of the things that are not what you most want to share with the world. All the query letters, and the contracts, and promotional videos, and hiring and firing of editors can and very well may keep you planning and complaining and worrying when you are away from your desk—but be clear. It is not your work itself. It is the busy work of moving your stories from the desk to the wider world.
Yet even when you are caught up in querying and contract-signing and blog-touring, continue to let that original desire that brought you to the page be your guide. Why you told a story is why you are selling the story is why you are signing books in bookstores. The purest intentions garner the purest results, and no intention will ever be purer than sharing what interests you most.
If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.